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Woman gored by deer in Pasco, suffers eye injury

One neighbor suspects that a buck named Vinny that has showed aggression was the one involved in the incident Friday.
One neighbor suspects that a buck named Vinny that has showed aggression was the one involved in the incident Friday.
Published Jan. 11, 2014

SPRING HILL — In the 911 call Friday morning from Survival Outreach Sanctuary, the woman sounds breathless while she explains to the dispatcher what happened.

"My sister has just been gored by a deer," she says.

The woman is short with the dispatcher but articulates that her 75-year-old sister was injured in the eye.

"Her eye?" the dispatcher clarifies.

"I can't tell. She's covered with blood," the caller says.

The woman explains that her sister, identified as Sylvia Fernandez, is in an RV in the woods of north Pasco County and that the caller had to come home to get the phone. The dispatcher tells the woman to call back when she's with Fernandez.

In a second call, from the RV, the woman tells the dispatcher that Fernandez's eye is hanging out and she has a gash on her arm.

The sisters waited in the RV until paramedics arrived. A helicopter took Fernandez to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, according to Pasco Fire Rescue Chief Tim Reardon. A hospital spokesman said she was in stable condition Friday evening.

Judy Watson owns the wildlife sanctuary, which also houses big cats like lions and tigers. Public records show that Fernandez is a director of the sanctuary. Watson could not be reached Friday.

A week before, one of the sanctuary's lions, Savannah, dug out of her cage, making national news. But the lion had not escaped the 10-foot-high fenced area. Officers tranquilized the lion with a dart gun and put her in another cage. Watson received a misdemeanor citation for improper caging that allowed an animal to escape, said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Morse said the sanctuary, which was incorporated in 2000, has a stellar safety record. "We've never had any problems with this facility," he said.

Attacks like these aren't common but they do happen, said Bill Giuliano, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida.

Usually deer will run away, Giuliano said, but when people start feeding them, the deer lose their fear. They start expecting food.

"It's those interactions that lead to the problems," he said. "If you disturb what they want to do then they get mad."

Male deer also become more aggressive during the rut, or mating season, which is usually in November.

Morse would not comment further on the incident other than to say the deer was still in his enclosure at the sanctuary on Friday afternoon and the case was under investigation.

Officials did not offer more information about how long the deer had been at the sanctuary, but one neighbor thinks the deer is one he has been familiar with: Vinny.

Ricky Miller, 21, said a friend of his found and named Vinny six years ago near a canal a quarter of a mile west on Bowman Road. He gave Vinny to the sanctuary.

Miller and his fiancee had an encounter with Vinny in November when the buck approached his house.

Vinny backed Miller's fiancee and her mother onto their porch, rubbing his antlers on the ground and acting aggressive.

A woman from the sanctuary tried to wrangle the deer using tree branches but was unsuccessful, Miller said. His fiancee's father ended up grabbing the deer by the antlers and dragging the animal back into the sanctuary.

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